Theatre History

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Theatre History

In 1986, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati drew back its curtains with the purpose of supporting local professional artists and a steadfast belief in the transformative power of the arts to create sustainable and attractive communities. After performing for two subscription seasons at Memorial Hall and following an extended search throughout the downtown area, the fledgling theatre moved to its present location in historic Over-the-Rhine with financial support from co-founders John and Ruth Sawyer and Ken and Mary “Murph” Taft Mahler. The theatre then secured a contract with Actors’ Equity Association and opened its doors as a fully professional theatre, presenting a wide range of productions, including classics and contemporary theatre. Today, Ensemble Theatre remains the Greater Cincinnati area’s second largest professional theatre.

In 1996, amidst financial duress in what was a then-troubled neighborhood and faced with the prospect of dissolving the company, D. Lynn Meyers became the theatre's Producing Artistic Director. Under her enthusiastic direction, Ensemble Theatre sharpened its mission as a theatre solely dedicated to producing new works and through its reinvorgated programming emerged as a more viable and stabile organization. During that time, Ensemble Theatre also expanded its programs to include a range of educational outreach programs focused on introducing the performing arts to economically disadvantaged children. Ensemble Theatre’s achievements and dedication to the production of new plays have resulted in strong relationships with some of our nation’s most renowned playwrights, including Edward Albee, Lee Blessing, Tom Fontana, and Warren Leight.

Ensemble Theatre’s heritage buildings at 1117 and 1127 Vine Street were built in 1912 and 1904, respectively. Before being converted into a performance space, Ensemble Theatre’s main building at 1127 Vine Street was originally built as a German bank, one of many such institutions erected in the early 20th century in response to the influx of German immigrants into Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati’s first suburb. The original Greek Revival architecture is still evident with the iconic columns framing the theatre’s façade and remnants of the building’s original purpose remain with the bank vault walls dividing the backstage area from the auditorium. During the interim years before becoming a theatre, the building at 1127 Vine Street also housed an Italian Consulate and printing press.

In 2009, Ensemble Theatre acquired 1117 Vine Street as part of its Next Stage Capital Campaign. Although the Campaign is still in its initial phases, this building now houses its production and scene shops. Once renovations are complete, this complex will also house Ensemble Theatre’s rehearsal facilities, conference rooms and administrative offices.

It is impossible to describe Ensemble Theatre’s history without also addressing its firmly rooted identity in Over-the-Rhine. Ensemble Theatre long ago recognized the need to invest in an historic, yet then-troubled, neighborhood to actuate positive community change while preserving its rich cultural heritage. Even during times of nationally publicized civil unrest when the neighborhood was plagued with crime and its very future seemed on the verge of ruin, Ensemble Theatre remained an unwavering anchor despite offers to relocate and instead championed the renaissance of Over-the-Rhine. Fortunately, within the past several years, dozens of new businesses have opened their doors and the area’s reputation has transformed into a national model of urban revitalization as well as a widely respected historic neighborhood offering an eclectic array of arts, entertainment, and dining.